School may be out for the summer, but it's time to start studying.
Legislative study committees start meeting this week. Dozens of committees will consider topics relating to criminal law, economic development, education, the environment, health care, tax policy, transportation and countless other issues.
The next legislative session won't start until January, but that doesn't mean you can stop paying attention. The work of the study committees will shape and influence future legislation, and there are topics of interest to every Hoosier. Study committees offer a good opportunity to consider issues outside the frenzy of a legislative session. Now is the time to have your voice heard.
Go to www.in.gov/legislative and look under "Interim Study Committees" in the menu on the left side of the page for links to the lists of committees, topics and a calendar. Many of the committee meetings will be broadcasted on the Internet. If you do not have Internet access and would like to receive information about study committees, call my legislative assistant, Clinton Bohm, at 1-800-382-9841.
As of yesterday, there was only one meeting scheduled. The Criminal Code Evaluation Commission will meet Thursday. It is charged with studying various issues involving sex crimes against children. Look for other committees to start posting meeting notices soon. Meetings will continue into the fall.
Boundaries for state legislative and congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years based on census data, so this year was a redistricting year. It won't happen again until 2021, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start looking at how to improve the process. The Interim Study Committee on Redistricting will consider proposals to amend the state constitution to establish an independent redistricting commission.
The Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee will consider a broad range of topics, including the laws relating to the investigation and prosecution of crimes, criminal procedure, alternative sentencing, parole, probation, community correction, home detention, criminal registries, victims' rights, the classification of criminal offenses into felony and misdemeanor categories, sex offenders and juvenile offenders.
Other topics the committee will consider include the long-range needs of the criminal justice and correction systems; the cost-effectiveness of the use of state and local funds in the two systems; plans, programs and legislation for improving the systems' effectiveness; truth in sentencing, good time credit and earned credit time and felony classifications; and criminal laws regarding marijuana.
Among various other topics, the Interim Study Committee on Economic Development will look at best practices in state and local economic development policies and activities; the use and effectiveness of tax credits and deductions; whether there are any specific sectors of the economy for which Indiana might have comparative advantages over other states; the extent to which Indiana's tax laws encourage business investment; and the extent to which Indiana's education systems support economic development.
The Interim Study Committee of Education Issues will study the causes of and ways to improve low graduation rates. In addition, the committee will look at superintendent pay and benefits, the placement of students in special education programs and the waiver process for high school graduation for students in special education.
Some topics may not jump out but are important nonetheless. The Interim Study Committee on Employment Issues will study "laws related to the issue of whether or not an employee should be required to join an employee organization as a condition of employment." That's a fancy way of describing what is more commonly known as right-to-work legislation - the issue that sparked this year's five-week walkout by House Democrats.
The Charity Gaming Study Committee will study a number of topics of interest to many churches and other organizations, including the requirements for obtaining a charity gaming license, reporting requirements, the frequency of events and hours.
The Health Finance Commission will study various topics of general interest, including issues relating to the implementation of last year's federal health care legislation.
The Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs will study the possibility of establishing preferences for purchasing from veteran-owned businesses and the needs of Hoosier veterans returning from service.
The Regulatory Flexibility Committee isn't high on the lists of summer activities, but anyone who spends part of their summer watching cable has an interest in whether cable television franchise fees paid to local governments are used properly and whether they have an anticompetitive effect on pricing - topics the committee will take up.
The Commission on State Tax and Financing Policy will consider numerous topics, including two I championed.
The commission will study how Indiana's income tax structure, including existing and potentially new income tax credits and deductions, may influence a senior's decision to stay in Indiana after retirement. I introduced legislation that would have increased the state tax deduction for retirement income from civil service annuities. Because of Indiana's fiscal condition, my bill didn't pass. Instead, the issue will be studied, which is often the case with unsuccessful legislation, and I am pleased the study will address broader issues relating to seniors.
I also introduced legislation that would have increased the availability of the state tax credit for renovation of historic commercial buildings. Again, because of the fiscal situation, my bill didn't advance, although it did receive a hearing - something the topic hasn't had in quite a few years. I will continue to support similar legislation. In the meantime, Indiana's historic preservation tax credits will be studied this summer.
The commission will also study issues relating to local option income taxes, transit funding, fire protection territories, phasing out the state inheritance tax, methods for eliminating or reducing the personal property tax statewide, sales tax holidays and Internet sales and taxation
The Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions will study the condition of Indiana's transportation infrastructure and determine whether the existing infrastructure is capable of meeting the transportation demands through the year 2035.
With so many topics to study, it's a long road ahead.